Oliver J. (Oliver Joseph) Thatcher.

A short history of mediæval Europe online

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felt that they were losing their nationality and being Ro-
manized ; their dependent relation to the Empire was also

After 507 the Kincdom of the West Goths tn

TJie Migrations of the Nations 25

galling to them. Accordingly, in the year 395, choosing
Alaric as their king, they revolted. Alaric was born of one Aiaric made
of their leading families, and, although favored and hon- ^"^'
ored by the Emperor, in his sympathies and ambitions had
remained true to his people. He cherished the idea of
national independence and liberty, and wished his people
to have a home where, without losing their nationality, they
might develop and make progress in civilization.

Alaric led his whole people through Thrace and Mace-
donia into Greece, devastating the country as he went,
though unable to take the walled towns. The army in the
west was commanded at this time by a Vandal named Stili-
cho, a man of the greatest ability. The Emperor was at
last compelled to summon him to his aid. He overtook
Alaric near Corinth, by skilful manceuvering drove him
into a disadvantageous position, and then offered him an
honorable peace. A treaty was made between them, by
the terms of which Illyria was ceded to the West Goths and
Alaric received the title of duke (398).

Illyria, however, was no better adapted to the national
development of the West Goths than were the lands along
the Danube. Alaric therefore prepared to move again. He
attempted to make a concerted invasion of Italy with the East Goihs
East Goths of Pannonia under their king, Ratger. Their OolhTSvade
movements, however, were not well timed. Ratger reached ^'^'y-
Italy in the year 399, but was defeated and driven back.
A year later Alaric entered Italy, and after vainly endeav-
oring to take the Emperor prisoner, was defeated by Stili-
cho and compelled to withdraw again into Illyria (403).
Ratger made another unsuccessful attempt to join Alaric in
Italy but was slain, and his great army destroyed, his sol-
diers either being killed or taken prisoner and sold into

These invasions of Ratger and Alaric drew the army from

26 A Short History of Mediceval Europe

Vandals and
Suevi invade
Gaul, 406-7.

Alaric in Nori-

Death of
Stilicho, 408.

Alaric sacks
■Rome, 410.

the Rhine, leaving that frontier unprotected. The Alani,
a non-German people, the Vandals, and the Suevi, finding
nothing to oppose them, crossed the Rhine on the ice dur-
ing the winter of 406-7 and quickly overran the territory
of Gaul, taking and sacking many towns. In 409 their ad-
vance guard had reached the Pyrenees and crossed into
Spain. While Stilicho Avas engaged in the west with these
invaders, Alaric moved his people from lUyria into Nori-
cum and sent ambassadors to Stilicho to say that he would
keep the peace if Noricum were given him w'ith four thou-
sand pounds of gold. StiUcho laid the matter before the
Emperor and the Senate at Rome, and since resistance was
impossible, they acceded to the demands of Alaric.

Stilicho was the only man in the Empire whom Alaric
feared. Although a Vandal, he was devoted to the royal
family and served the Emperor faithfully. Through the
intrigues of certain factions at the court, however, the Em-
peror was led to believe that Stilicho was a dangerous plot-
ter, and had him seized and put to death. The death of
Stilicho was the signal for another revolt (408) of the West
Goths. Alaric demanded more money and the cession of
Pannonia, and, as his demands w^ere refused, promptly in-
vaded Italy. Twice he besieged Rome, and twice, deceived
by the false promises of the Emperor, was induced to raise
the siege. But the third time he persisted. On August
23, 410, the city was delivered into his hands by the
treachery of Gothic slaves, and was plundered by his troops.
They did not greatly damage it, but the world was deeply
shocked that its capital should become the spoil of Barba-

Alaric then moved to the south and prepared to invade
Sicily and Africa. At Rhegium he collected a large fleet,
which was destroyed by a storm. The winter coming on,
Alaric pitched his camp near Cosenza, intending to renew


The Migrations of the Nations 27

the invasion the following year. A {q\\ days afterward,
however, he was seized with the Italian fever, and died Death of
after a brief illness. Legend says that his grave was made ^^^^'
in the bed of the river Busento by Roman slaves, who were
then slain in order that his last resting-place might be un-
known, and so be nev^er desecrated. Alaric was probably
the greatest of all the German leaders in the period of in-
vasions. He kept alive in his people the idea of a free in-
dependent national existence. But for him they would
have been assimilated to the people of the Empire.

Alaric was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Athaulf, who Athauif and
who was in many respects his equal. Athaulf had already hsh'the'^king'-
fallen in love with Placidia, the sister of the Emperor, who f\omof 'he

. ^ ' u est Goths.

With her mother had been taken prisoner in Rome ; and it
was probably in part due to her influence that he gave up
his hostile attitude toward the Emperor and made peace
with him. Gaul and Spain were assigned Athaulf on con-
dition that he .should drive out the Alani, the Suevi, and
Vandals, and put down the usurper Constantine. In 412
he led his people over the mountains into southern Gaul.
Many of the Vandals and Suevi had already passed over
into Spain. Athaulf cjuickly conquered southern Gaul as
far as the Loire, and the northeastern part of Spain. In
414, at Narbonne, he married Placidia, who had been kept
a prisoner by the West Goths. Orosius (vii., 43) has re-
ported a saying of his which shows him in his true great-
ness. It had long been his desire, Athaulf is made to say,
to destroy the power and name of Rome and establish in
its place the kingdom of the Goths. The Roman Empire
was to be replaced by Gothia. But he had, at length, seen
that his people were too untamed to submit to the necessary
laws and discipline of a state ; and had chosen, therefore,
to be rather the preserver of Rome than its destroyer.
These words show him to have been a man of deep insight


28 A Short History of Mediaeval Europe

The Suevi in



The West
Goths become
orthodox, are
driven out of
(iaul, con-
'quered by the

and excellent judgment. It was impossible, however, for
him to keep peace with Honorius, who listened to the slan-
ders of the intriguers at court. He revolted, and again
set up as Emperor, Attalus, who was soon afterward taken
prisoner and put to death by the forces of Honorius. At-
haulf himself was murdered in 415, and was succeeded by
Walia, who made peace with the Emperor. Walia carried
on a bitter war against the Alani, Suevi, and Vandals. The
Alani were wholly subjected, the Suevi pushed into the
northwestern part of Spain, and the Vandals were driven
to the south. He succeeded in establishing the kingdom
of the West Goths on both sides of the Pyrenees, with Tou-
louse as his principal residence.

The kingdom of the West Goths (41 5-7 11) maintained
its strength for many years. Many of its kings were able
men, and ruled well. Since the West Goths were Barba-
rians, conquerors, and heretics, the orthodox Provincials
refused to fuse with them. But in 586 Reccared, who had
been brought up in the orthodox faith, ascended the throne,
and, following his example, his subjects soon adopted the
orthodox creed. The principal hindrance to the fusion of
the two peoples was thereby removed. The king made the
bishops his chief councillors, and his legislation and gov-
ernment were greatly influenced by the Church. The
West Goths were slowly Romanized, and made progress in
civilization. They were not, however, able to maintain
themselves north of the Pyrenees. The Franks were ex-
tending themselves toward the south, and in the years 507-
1 1 their king, Chlodwig, broke the power of the West Goths
in Gaul and practically drove them beyond the Pyrenees.
Realizing that their future must lie in Spain, they set them-
selves to conquer the whole of it. In 585 they overcame
the Suevi, and till 711 remained masters of the peninsula.
In that year the Mohammedans crossed the Strait of Gib-


The Migrations of the Nations 29

raltar and easily made an end of the West Gothic kingdom,

only a small strip of territory along the southern slopes of

the Pyrenees remaining in the hands of the Christians.

The Suevi took possession of all the northwestern part of The Suevi.

Spain (419), and their kings took up their residence in

the city of Braga. The Suevi played no important role in

the history of the country. In 585 they were conquered

and their kingdom incorporated by the West Goths.

The Vandals remained in southern Spain till 429, when The Vandal,

^ , . in Africa.

they were invited by Boniface, the governor of the province

of Africa, to come and assist him in his struggle against the
Emperor. With his whole people, numbering about eighty
thousand persons, Geiseric, their king, crossed into Africa, King Geiseric,
only to find that Boniface had made terms with the Emper-
or and did not need his services. After demanding and
being refused his pay, Geiseric resorted to arms, and in
about ten years had conquered and taken possession of the
province of Africa. He made himself master of a fleet
and quickly had all the islands of the western Medi-
terranean in his possession. He attacked the coast of
Italy, and in 455 took and sacked Rome, carrying off
as prisoner Eudoxia, the daughter of the Emperor Val-
entinian III. She was later married to his son and
successor, Hunneric. Geiseric was a wily diplomat as
well as an able commander. He often entered into dip-
lomatic relations with the Emperors and also with Odo-
vaker, and secured treaties with them, which confirmed
him in his possession of Africa and the islands. Being an
Arian, he bitterly harassed and persecuted the orthodox
Roman Provincials. Fearing revolt, he dismantled the
walls of all the important places except Carthage, where he
himself resided. He died in 477, and was succeeded by his
son Hunneric (477-84), who had all his father's vices with-
out any of his virtues and ability. During his reign the

30 A Short History of MedicBval Europe

Moors regained much territory on the south. He made
himself more odious than even his father by his persecutions
of the Catholics, many of whom he put to death or muti-

End of the Under his successors the Vandal power steadily declined

dom''^' '^'"'^ '■'^^ 533' when the Emperor Justinian sent his general, Beli-
sarius, with a small army into Africa. Belisarius easily put
an end to the Vandal kingdom, and reduced Africa again to
the position of a Roman province. Some of the Vandals
perished in the war, the others either migrated or were fused
with the population about them.

The Alamanni. The Alamanni were composed of fragments of many Ger-
man tribes who established themselves in the territory now
known as the Black Forest and the northern part of Switzer-
land, where their dialect is still spoken in the rural districts.
They also occupied the valleys of the Main and the Neckar.
They were a loose confederation of tribes, each under its
own king, without any central government. Their separate
existence was cut short in 496, when they were conquered
by the Franks.

The Burgun- The Burgundians left their home between the Oder and
the Vistula about the middle of the third century, and in a
few years we find them on the Rhine and the Main. The
territory about Worms was granted them in 413. The
scene of many parts of the Nibelungen Lied is laid in and
about Worms, and the Lied contains the Burgundian tradi-
tions of that period. After various fortunes the Emperor's
officer, Aetius, in 443, transferred them to the territory south
of Lake Geneva on both sides of the Rhone, from which
they extended their power, till, in 473, they had reached the
Mediterranean. Gundobad (474-5i6),byputting twoof his
rivals to death and subordinating another to himself, be-
came sole king. He received the title of Patricius from the
Emperor, and was regarded as one of his officials. Roman


The Migrations of the Nations 31

scholars were gladly welcomed at his court, and the culture
of the Empire found a home with him. For two reasons,
however, the continued national existence of the Burgun-
dians was impossible. They were Arian, while the Provin-
cials, among whom they lived, were orthodox ; and the
Franks, who were rising in power, coveted their territory.
After some ineffectual attempts the Franks conquered the
Burgundians and made an end of their kingdom (534).

After taking possession of southeastern Europe in the last
quarter of the fourth century, the course of the Huns to the
west was temporarily checked. They seem not to have re-
mained long united, but to have broken up into groups,
some of which went into the service of the Empire. After
awhile a new leader appeared in the person of Rugilas, who
did much to bring them together again. At his death
(435) ^"'^ ^^^ succeeded by two nephews, Bleda and Attila,
who ruled jointly till about 444, when Attila caused Bleda
to be assassinated.

By diplomatic means, as well as by force, Attila united Attila and the
all the peoples, of whatever race, between the Volga and the
Rhine. With an army composed largely of Huns and Ger-
mans he more than once ravaged the Eastern Empire, even
crossing into Asia, carrying the war into Armenia, Syria,
the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, and threatening
Persia. Constantinople was in danger from him, and was
compelled to pay a heavy ransom.

At length, in 450, he turned his attention to the west.
With an immense army he crossed the Rhine, ravaged north-
ern Gaul, and was moving toward the .south when his march
was stopped by the defence of Orleans. Aetius, the com-
mander of the imperial army in the west, gathered together
all the forces possible and went to assist the city. Attila
withdrew to the " Catalaunian Fields" (the exact location The Catalau-
of which is imknown), where he was defeated (451) in a '

32 A Short History of Mediceval Europe

Condition of


great battle. He retreated to his capital in Pannonia, a
village near the modern Tokai, on the Theiss river. The
next summer he invaded and ravaged all northern Italy, but
was compelled to retreat, because of the fever which broke
out in his army and the approach of the army under Aetius.
He died in 453, in a drunken stupor. The story of the
embassy of the Bishop of Rome, Leo the Great, to Attila,
is legendary.

Though a Barbarian, Attila was by no means a savage.
He practised the arts of diplomacy, often sent and received
embassies, and respected the international laws and customs
which then existed. His residence presented a strong mixt-
ure of barbarism and luxury. His small wooden houses
were filled with the rich plunder carried off in his many in-
vasions of Roman territory. He despised Rome and her
civilization, and hoped to erect an Empire of his own on
her ruins. He had among his following several Greeks,
through whose written accounts of him, his conquests, and
his kingdom, he hoped to become immortal. At his death
his Empire fell rapidly to pieces. His son, Ella, attempted
to quell the revolting tribes, but lost his life in battle, 454.
All the German and Slavic peoples which had obeyed At-
tila and added to his strength now became independent

Before recounting the invasion of Italy by the East Goths,
it is necessary to look at its condition. Ever since the es-
tablishment of the Empire, Rome had been steadily declin-
ing. Much of the prestige which had once been hers now
belonged to the Emperor, because the power was in his
hands. Constant wars on the frontier kept the Emperor
from residing in Rome. Constantine recognized that the
government could no longer be administered from Rome,
so he chose Byzantium for his residence, fortified and beau-
tified it, and gave it his name. It was apparent from the

The Migrations of the Nations 33

first that this was a wise choice. It lay on the confines of
Asia and Europe, was convenient to the seats of war, Persia
and the Danube, and was altogether a strategic position.
Moreover, it was easily defended, being a natural strong-
hold. It commanded the sea, a fact of the utmost impor-
tance for both war and trade. Its beautiful curved harbor,
the centre of the world's commerce during the Middle Age,
has been properly called " the Golden Horn," because of
its shape and the wealth it has brought to the city. As a
residence of the Emperor in the east, Constantinople was
without a rival.

The work of governing the Empire was too arduous for
one man. After various attempts to solve this difficulty, it
became customary to divide the government between two The govern-

^ • • ^1 -^ • ^1 ^ ^\ .\ nient divided.

Emperors, one exercising authority in the east, the other
in the west. At the death of Theodosius (395) his two
sons succeeded him, Arcadius receiving the east, and Hono-
rius the west. After a short time Honorius removed his
court to Ravenna, a further step in the humiliation of

The fifth century was full of wars and anarchy. The
Emperors were, for the most part, weak, profligate, vicious,
and utterly regardless of the interests of the state. They did
little to check the invasions of the Barbarians. The army,
composed mostly of German mercenaries, plundered and
pillaged the inhabitants as it pleased. Wishing to establish
themselves, the soldiers demanded that one-third of the soil
be given them. Romulus Augustulus was at this time Em-
peror, but his father, Orestes, was the power behind the
throne. The demand of the troops was refused, whereupon
Odovaker, a German of great courage and ability, put him- Odovalcer.
self at the head of the mercenaries and took by force what
had been denied them. Orestes was slain, and the little
Emperor compelled to go before the senate and resign his

34 A Short History of Mediaeval Europe

The Empire
under one
again, 476.

ruler in Italy.

The East
Goths invade

imperial dignity. At the command of Odovaker the sen-
ate, sending the imperial insignia and standards to Zeno,
the Emperor in the east, informed him that there was no
need of a western Emperor, since one Emperor was able to
protect both the east and the west. They gave their con-
sent to the removal of the capital from Rome to Constan-
tinople and renounced the right of electing the Emperor,
besides asking that the honorary and indefinite title of Pa-
tricius be conferred on Odovaker, and that he be invested
with the administration of the government of Italy. In
accordance with the hesitating policy of the eastern Em-
perors, the request was neither granted nor refused. Zeno
rebuked them for some things, praised them for others, and
treated Odovaker as Patricius without actually committing

Odovaker, not in the least disturbed by this, assumed
the title of Patricius and was called king of the com-
bined Barbarians in Italy. He now gave one-third of the
lands to his troops. He ruled Italy well, restoring the
office of consul in Rome (482), and renewing and preserv-
ing the institutions and laws of the city. Theoretically his
government was under the control of the eastern Emperor,
but practically he was almost independent. He restored
peace, enforced the laws, and gave Italy an excellent gov-
ernment, till, as prosperity was rapidly returning and Italy
was beginning to recover from the long period of misrule
and violence, his success led to his downfall. In 487 he
attacked the Rugians in Pannonia, defeated them and car-
ried off the son of their king Feletheus, Frederick, who,
however, quickly made his escape, fled to the East Goths
and begged their king Theoderic to avenge him.

Theoderic obtained Zeno's consent, couched in ambigu-
ous terms, to invade Italy ; and collecting his people, he
set out in the autumn of 488, a year later entered Italy,

The Migrations of the Nations 35

and, defeating Odovaker, besieged him in Ravenna. After
four years of struggle Theoderic and Odovaker agreed to
divide the government of Italy between them ; but a few
days later Theoderic basely murdered Odovaker and took
possession of the country (493). He preserved the Roman
government as nearly intact as possible and used educated
Romans as his officials, among whom Cassiodorus, Boethi-
us, and Symmachus were famous. Theoderic developed an The rule of
activity of the widest range. He restored the aqueducts
and the walls of many cities, repaired the roads, drained
marshes, reopened mines, promoted commerce and agri-
culture, repaired public buildings, administered the strict-
est justice, preserved the peace, and enforced the laws. He
gave Italy a new period of prosperity. Appreciating and
admiring the Roman civilization, he nevertheless believed
that it induced effeminacy, and was therefore unwilling that
his Goths should have any part in it ; the education of the
schools and the use of the pen were for the Romans, the
practice of war for his people.

In religious matters he had a singularly clear mind. Al- Religious free-
though an Arian, he refused to persecute the orthodox, and
gave the Jews protection against their Christian persecutors.
He declared that no compulsion should be used in matters
of faith, and that " to assume control over the beliefs and
consciences of others was to usurp the prerogative of Ood."
Toward the end of his reign he was guilty of persecution,
though this was more for political than for religious rea.sons,
Boethius and Symmachus, two of his trusted officials, being
put to death for what was supposed to be treasonable cor-
respondence with the Emperor at Constantinople.

Toward his barbarian neighl)ors in the west Tlieoderic
had what may be called a German policy. He felt that His "Ger-
the future belonged to the Germans, if they would but
unite and not destroy each other. Accordingly he at-

36 A Short History of Mediceval Europe

Other German

tempted to bring them all into close alliance, hoping there-
by to prevent all German wars.

His death in 526 was quickly followed by national dis-
aster. Violence reigned under his weak successors, and
Justinian made this an excuse for attacking them. His
army invaded Italy, and after nearly twenty years of inter-
mittent struggle, the kingdom of the East Goths was over-
thrown and Italy was made a province of the Empire.

Around the lower Rhine there were several tribes, such
as the Sugambri, Chamavi, Attuarii, Ampsivarii, Chatti,
Teucteri, Bructeri, and others, who in some unknown way
came to be called Franks. The most important divisions
were the Salians, near the mouth of the Rhine, and the
Ripuarians near Cologne. During the fourth and fifth
centuries they gradually spread by conquest to the south.
They were not yet united, there being several independent
kings among them, each ruling over his own group or

About the middle of the fifth century a tribe of Salian
Franks comes into notice under their king, Childeric.
Several other kings are mentioned, among them, Mero-
veus, from whom the later dynasty takes its name ; but
these are probably legendary. At the death of Childeric,
481, his son, Chlodwig (Clovis, Louis, Ludwig), succeeded
him and began a remarkable career of conquest which
ended in the union of all the Franks under his sceptre.
The kingdom of the Franks may be regarded as beginning
with the accession of Chlodwig to the throne.

Besides the German tribes thus far mentioned, there
were others still uninfluenced by the Romans, occupying
territory outside of the Empire. Such were the Thurin-
gians, the Bavarians, the Lombards, the Saxons, the Danes,
and others, all of whom were yet to play an important part
in the history of Europe. Still other once powerful tribes,

The Migrations of the Nations 37

among them the Gepidse, the Herulians, and the Rugians,
had either disappeared or were soon to disappear, worn out
by the long struggle with each other or with Rome.

The territory between the mouth of the Rhine and the
straits leading into the Baltic was occupied by several tribes,
the most important of which were the Friesians, the Saxons,
the Angles, and the Jutes. In the fifth century these peo-
ples began to ravasre the coast of Britain, and, probably in The invasions

Online LibraryOliver J. (Oliver Joseph) ThatcherA short history of mediæval Europe → online text (page 3 of 25)